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Gakpo, Ten Hag & a second Man Utd shot: Why Qatar form will silence lingering doubts

Whatever happens in January, no-one at Manchester United can say Cody Gakpo didn't hold up his end of the bargain...

He was tapped. He then ducked. Waited. But in the end, that offer from United never came. By his own admission, PSV Eindhoven's vice-captain was left hanging by United and their manager Erik ten Hag last summer. An offer from Southampton was turned down. A booked private flight for Leeds was rejected. There were dramatics. A job was lost. And when the market shut, Gakpo was still a PSV player.

"I spoke to Erik ten Hag a few times at Manchester United. In the end, the deal didn't go through, which was a shame for me and my development," Gakpo would say weeks after the deadline fell.

Fast forward to today and the good money is on Gakpo getting that dream move to Old Trafford over the New Year. The shop window that is Qatar 2022 affirming what Ten Hag has long thought of the 23 year-old. The attacker's performances also allaying doubts amongst the Dutch press that Gakpo's lack of profile would work against him in the United dressing room.

"If I were his adviser, I would say: dude, stay in the Eredivisie for another year, try to play 34 matches," declared pundit Valentijn Driessen earlier this season. "Then go and look across the border, then you will enter with extra status and luggage. Now he'd go in like a nobody at Manchester United."

Picking up the theme, Rene Meulensteen, Sir Alex Ferguson's old No2, also has stated: "I have my doubts about that. Gakpo is fantastic in the Eredivisie, but that is no guarantee to make a difference there at United."

Wesley Sneijder, who was famously pursued by Ferguson, is another to question Gakpo's readiness for Old Trafford: "Cody needs to get a little bolder, claim balls and pull his mouth open. Here I am, give me that ball, I'm going to do it for you. He just has those qualities. If you're just a sweet boy, you're not going to make it at the absolute top."

But those doubts about status are now disappearing. Gakpo, with every Oranje game, is seeing his profile across the globe grow. Predictions from his coach Louis van Gaal that "this can be Gakpo's World Cup" now don't look so far fetched.

So the performances are there. The reputation has grown. And the transfer talk is now reaching frenzied levels. Real Madrid are in for him. Liverpool, through countryman Pep Lijnders, is taking a new look. And even Bayern Munich are being mentioned as a suitor.

Another player. Another club. And you'd dismiss it all as World Cup transfer tales. But Gakpo was a wanted man over the summer. United may have fallen through. But only the stubbornness of John de Jong prevented Leeds from clinching his signature in August. The now former GM staring down several board members who had wanted to accept Leeds' bid of €30m plus bonuses. Three months on and PSV will insist on double that to sell Gakpo. De Jong's reward for his foresight was a September sack...

Real? Liverpool? Bayern? Whether they're genuine options or not, what we do know is the groundwork for an Old Trafford move has long been laid. We also know that Gakpo regrets missing the transfer. And with Cristiano Ronaldo now a memory, we know Ten Hag sees the player as a potential replacement.

He's not a natural centre-forward, but versatile enough, like Antony, to play centrally if needed. A player who keeps a photo of Pele in his wallet, Gakpo has been discussed inside Carrington as one to develop into a central striker. Comparisons with Thierry Henry and his move from Juventus to Arsenal have been raised in these conversations.

And he'll be open to it. Gakpo, even at 23, has always been a personality to look ahead. "He's open to new ideas," says veteran Dutch coach Wim van Hanegem. "He wants to get the best out of his career."

Toon Gerbrands, who was GM at PSV as Gakpo was coming through the system, has also revealed: “Cody is always curious and interested.

"(At 18) he was already thinking about what he would like to do after his career as a footballer. Becoming general manager seemed like something interesting to him. He would come back to me on a regular basis. He showed genuine interest and had questions such as: what is involved in such a position, what do you have to be able to do, how do you conduct a bad news conversation, for example? That's what he wanted to know."

It can be reasoned that Gerbrands' advice went some way to Gakpo "I'm an old soul" earning a place amongst PSV's leadership group at such a young age. With his open and measured approach to interviews, there is a real maturity about Gakpo which would suggest he can handle anything that will come his way in 2023.

And given his impact with Holland, that is now to include a second shot at United. With ability confirmed. And reputation enhanced. Ten Hag will soon be back on the phone. Any lingering doubts about the weight of the Manchester United shirt now gone thanks to what we're seeing from Cody Gakpo in Qatar.

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Chris Beattie
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